Thursday, April 4, 2013

Born Strange: Introduction

Elvis Presley's First Photo
1938, Mississippi St. Penitentiary
At Parchman Farm
When Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935, he was born a stranger. A stranger in what most Americans, even in "The Great Depression," called "no man's land." He lived across the tracks and the levee, in East Tupelo, a separate town, then. Only for the poor whites, but perhaps not the absolute poorest whites of all. That status was to come a little later for Elvis, his father and mother.

As most people know, he wasn't born an only child, but he became one instantly. His brother, born first, could not get his breath, and he died at birth. Whether he was "stillborn" or actually gasped is something no one can really know. What is known is that his father Vernon Elvis Presley, buried Jesse Garon Presley, in what had been an unmarked grave in the Priceville Cemetery. A reliable child-friend insists that Elvis knew where the grave was, though it can never be entirely clear, as the baby was buried in a shoe-box, initially without a grave marker. 

Tupelo historian Roy Turner interviewed a former child-friend of Elvis, James Ausborn, about the grave, and Ausborn says he and Elvis knew where it was.

Jesse Garon
©Anthony Stuchbury. All Rights Reserved.
A photo was taken of a small, uninscribed stone, next to Elvis's Uncle Noah's grave, in the cemetery. This is the photo: ©Anthony Stuchbury. All Rights Reserved.

The doctor who came, in an emergency, filled out info on both baby boys. He and his sick mother stayed in the hospital for two weeks, paid for "by the welfare." His mother worked while pregnant, her legs swelling, and becoming increasingly ill. She had to.

While it's hard to imagine deeper poverty, there was deeper poverty to come. We'll learn how the state of Mississippi was essentially run by its agricultural landlords: they called the shots, and the politicians answered. Vernon would deal with that state of affairs shortly. He ended up in Parchman Farm, a chain gang, in a dispute over the price of a hog. With the landlord. The man who owned the land upon which he lived, and who also employed him. Orville Bean owned almost all the land "'cross the tracks" for both blacks and whites who were the poorest, and employed most of the poor people. 

In 1936, a fearful storm thrashed Tupelo to shreds, killing over 200 people, most of them blacks who lived in what was called "Tin Town" then.

And then it got worse.

You just don't cross your landlord.

©Robin Markowitz, 2013. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I look forward to reading and seeing more

  2. Hi Ken! I think sometimes, it'll be every other day, and then I'll go longer intervals. Next, I'm going to explain the different agricultural labor systems at the time, to set up what Vernon and Gladys did, so that everyone understands. It's actually quite complex.

    Robin :D

  3. Hi, my name is Patti-Jo (Bean) Tristan. I am the great-nice of Orville Bean. I don't think there is much mystery about him. This is just speculation, in part, based on family conversations, but the Bean men were/are somewhat temperamental. The particulars regarding Vernon's arrest and imprisonment were never discuss in my presence. However, it is my strong belief that Orville participated in testimony unfavorable to Vernon Presley because he changed/forged a check. He was simply angry about it - as most people would be. But, it is also a well-known fact that he later had a change-of-heart and helped facilitate Vernon's release. I have never verified the particulars about this, but I can, but did you know that after Uncle Orville's death, Aunt Agnes donated land to the city of Tupelo for the purpose of establishing Elvis Presley Park? I am reasonably certain that land was donated - not purchased from her, but donated. My grandmother told me she did. And, I remember be scolded (about standing too close to the ledge) as a young child as they were moving dirt for the lake. I am not sure there is much more I could tell you, but my email address is, if you care to write me.